Yoko Ono gets some overdue recognition with To the Light
Serpentine retrospective does justice to this elusive, misunderstood but significant artist
What you need to know
A major retrospective of the work of celebrated artist Yoko Ono, To the Light, has opened at London’s Serpentine Gallery. Ono, also known as the widow of Beatle John Lennon, has worked as an artist, film-maker, poet, musician, writer, performance artist and peace activist for over five decades. She is one of the best-known members of the 1960s underground art movement Fluxus.
To the Light, Ono’s first exhibition in a London public gallery for more than a decade, features key installations, films and performances from her career, alongside new works and archival material.
Accompanying the exhibition in the Serpentine Gallery, Ono has created a site-specific installation in Kensington Gardens, #smilesfilm, which invites visitors to a specially-designed photo booth to record their smiles. Until 9 September.
What the critics like
The Serpentine retrospective does justice to Ono’s elusive, uneven, but by no means negligible art, says Richard Dorment in The Daily Telegraph. Ono’s light touch “should not be mistaken for silliness”. One installation, involving upturned soldier’s helmets filled with pieces of a jigsaw puzzle forming a blue sky, at first looks too slight to carry any emotional charge. But as the meaning sinks in – that each helmet is a soldier looking up at the blue sky shattering in his head – “the piece is unexpectedly, unaccountably heartbreaking”.
The Serpentine’s thoroughly absorbing and beautifully staged show takes a step towards an accurate acknowledgement of Ono’s achievements, says Ben Luke in The Evening Standard. There’s lots of Sixties peace and love, but “Ono’s tougher side provides the real highlight”. Cut Piece (1964), recording audience members cutting away her clothing with scissors is a masterpiece but “there is plenty more here that proves she is a genuinely original and enduringly significant artist”.
Ono’s work Fly, a film following a fly’s journey across a woman's naked body, demands concentration, says Adrian Searle in The Guardian. “No Ono work since has had this much charge.” It could be installed and aired alone.
What they don’t like
Outside the Serpentine show, members of the public are invited to write their dearest wish on a tag, and tie it to one of Yoko’s 'Wish Trees’, says Richard Dorment in the Telegraph. “This is the kind of thing even her admirers find twee.”
Ono's art is better seen in the context of dialogue, says Adrian Searle in The Guardian, rather than focusing on her own “dubious uniqueness”. Fluxus was full of humour, wild performances and experiment. But perhaps only Ono’s name alone was alluring enough for the Serpentine's summer show this Olympic year.